Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides on Wednesday likened some land registry officials to representatives of Saint Peter on earth, deciding who will go to heaven or hell when it comes to property issues.
He was commenting on the way the head of the department of the lands and surveys (DLS), Andreas Socratous, had presented the work of his service to the House ethics committee, urging MPs to look at the general issues the DLS dealt with and not only referring to isolated, negative cases and thus tarnishing the service.
Michaelides, other officials and MPs however cited a series of problems faced by those in need of land registry services. The committee heard that around 100,000 cases are pending.
The auditor-general told the committee applications for land evaluations go back 10 years while other problems have gone on for years.
“Some land registry employees believe they represent Saint Peter on earth,” he said.
An official from the ombudswoman’s office, told MPs that complaints for delays by the land registry had been reduced compared with 2007, 2009 and 2010, as surveys were now assigned to the private sector.
But despite improvements, the land registry does not live up to public expectations, said committee chair, Zacharias Zachariou.
“The big picture is the positive offer to the Cypriot citizen and the small picture is that there are 100,000 pending cases.”
He added that personnel assigned to handle these cases were trying to put things in order but the service needed to be modernised.
Socratous mentioned all the work the DLS departments carry out daily such as management of state property, valuation, cartography and hydrography.
He also said they have digitised all maps which are available online for property owners to easily find their plots and all relevant details.
All these are being carried out while there is lack of staff, he said, adding that during the last nine years the organisation has been operating with around 300 fewer employees.
Zachariou said that procedures needed to be simplified, adding that the problem of under-staffing was obvious and hoped parliament could help improve this.
A major issue is the introduction of e-signature, which will contribute to the effective implementation of e-government, he said.
Referring to the issue raised concerning property estimates, whereby the land registry officials estimated the value of state land at much lower rates than in the past, Zachariou said that it was logical to make mistakes on such a large project. “The electronic system had to detect the error immediately, however,” he said.
The Greens’ chairman Giorgos Perdikis said that at least once per month, the committee deals with complaints concerning the DLS.
He added that the auditor-general had raised the question of the credibility of the estimates and that in recent years several disciplinary cases have been investigated, including the firing of three officials because they facilitated the illegal transfer of property in the north.
Perdikis said that next month, the committee would be dealing with another case concerning the DLS.